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“Fix the customer first” is one of the first adages most service and support people learn when they first begin their training. Legendary tales are shared about the service technician whose skills were the poorest on the team, yet customers kept requesting that person because he or she kept them fully informed and was pleasant to work with.

In the channel, we constantly focus on the technologies we integrate for our customers. However, those customers ultimately require the greatest focus. If we do not fulfill their needs and expectations, we won’t have a business much longer.

Some channel organizations have blossomed with all types of “managers” to answer the challenge of effective customer relationship management. Project managers, relationship managers, engagement managers, customer service managers, customer satisfaction managers, customer experience managers and sales managers are in there somewhere.

Any channel professional with profit and loss responsibility probably cringed at that preceding paragraph. With tissue-thin product margins and increasing competitive pressure on service rates, spending on more people to manage anything is almost unimaginable.

Individuals With People and Tech Skills: A Rare Breed

Just as we seek technical people with skills on multiple platforms who can address a broader selection of customer technical challenges, some channel managers seek people who can work well with both technologies and people. They, too, encounter challenges.

“Those people are extremely rare,” said Paul Neyman, president of Waypoint Business Solutions, a Houston-based an enterprise IT architecture consulting firm. “If you do find them, they’re either very highly paid where they are, or they own their own business.”

In fact, Marc Hoppers, director of technology services at Dallas-based business consulting firm Sirius Solutions calls them unicorns because they emphasize what rare creatures these multi-faceted professionals are. “The challenge, whether you’re doing desktop support or high-end strategic consulting, comes in forming the right culture. You’ve got the technical guy who is either a unicorn to begin with, or able to learn to be one, and then you have people you need to keep in the back room.”

M.J. Shoer, chief technology officer at Internet & Telephone LLC, and chairman of the board of directors of CompTIA, emphasized the value of these rare individuals. “When you look at the technical people who are very successful in the firms that are able to grow successfully, they have that ability to be more of that virtual CIO, more consultative than just technical.  They’re able to think more strategically about what is going on.”

Customers perceive real value in the technical and service/support professionals who serve them. Waypoint’s Neyman has numerous conversations with customers who say, “I just want to talk with someone who actually knows something.”

Knowing your value is crucial, explained Aaron Zeper, vice president of sales, marketing and professional services for Tempe, Ariz.-based data center service provider Signature Technology Group, which distributor Tech Data recently acquired.

Zeper describes a change in the periodic review meetings his people conduct with their clients. “When they were led by a sales rep, they just started the meeting and then turned it over to technical people, and they ended up just being a sales call really,” he explained. “When a service engineer began leading the meetings, the customer perceived it as far less threatening and it truly became a valuable service excellence review.”